By Joanna Delalande
From fists to knives and guns, Nicky Cruz had tried them all, but to his surprise love turned out to be a more powerful weapon.
Nicky was born in Puerto Rico to parents who were followers of spiritism. He witnessed his mother being possessed by the devil and to this day he recalls with disgust the animal sacrifices, the blood, the repulsive smell, and the evil spirit that used to manifest inside his mother and fill him with terror.
He spent hours locked in a room with pigeons and was knocked unconscious by his mother numerous times.
“I used to feel good when I hurt people”
Years later in New York, Nicky became the leader of Brooklyn's notorious Mau-Mau gang, exercising the same kind of violence he had experienced as a child.
"I wanted to do to [others] what my mother did to me," he explains in his video testimony.
"I wanted them to know how it feels to get hurt. And I used to feel good when I hurt people.
"You can get high on sex, you can get high on alcohol, you can get high on all kinds of drugs," Nicky says. "I was high on hate and violence."
But his vengeful acts of violence did not appease his brokenness. "Loneliness became like a seductive woman that would crawl inside of my chest and eat me," he describes vividly.
"The most you can live the way I used to live is 20 years," Nicky says. "I was 19 already. In one year I would be dead."
That is until preacher David Wilkerson told Nicky of God's love for him. Nicky threatened him and David replied; "You could cut me up into a thousand pieces and lay them in the street, and every piece would still love you."
With that one sentence Nicky was exposed to love in a way he had never been before.
"For two weeks I could not sleep thinking about love," he says.
Nicky brought his gang to an evangelistic meeting David was speaking at in an attempt to "teach (David) a lesson".
In the end it was Nicky who learnt a lesson; one about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that meant for his life. He learned how much God loved him. He learned he could be forgiven for all the wrong he had done.
Tears began pouring down his face and he fought them, but then he gave in and surrendered to the Lord. "I let Jesus hug me," Nicky describes. "I let my head rest on his chest. I said: 'I'm sorry. Forgive me.' And for the first time I told somebody I loved them. I said: 'I love you, Jesus'.
"When I opened my eyes I had a new heart. I had been born again. I was a child of God."
Nicky left the gang and joined Bible College where he met his wife. Together they set up Teen Challenge, a program to help troubled teens.
Nicky even brought his brother, father and his mother to Christ in what he described as the greatest success of his life.
The father of four now travels the world as an evangelist and head of Nicky Cruz Outreach spreading this message: "You can take all of this deep pain and this hurt and this deep rejection and do what I did: give it to Christ. And you're going to be happier with your life." •
Nicky's full story is available through his two autobiographies, Run Baby Run and Soul Obsession, as well as the 1970 film version of his conversion The Cross and the Switchblade.